It is now the 11th week of our new education reality and conversations around the country are focused on how and when to welcome students back to school in the fall.
Last week, we highlighted Transform Education Now’s efforts to ensure that virtual instruction in Denver would be accessible to all parents and we dug deeper into the inequities that have emerged as a result of distance learning.
This week, we speak to Patricia Morgan, the executive director of JerseyCAN, about the key role task forces are playing in shaping state policy and explore the ways in which communities need to get creative now to be ready for students when they return in the fall.
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Ensure state task forces focus on the needs of students
“My career in the education space started more than 15 years ago as a first grade special education teacher,” JerseyCAN Executive Director Patricia Morgan shared in a new video interview. “I really saw firsthand a lot of the challenges that our teachers and families face, especially in low-income school districts and I found myself advocating for my special needs students.”
It is that mindset as a student advocate that Morgan is bringing to her work a decade and a half later. “A real part of advocacy is connecting the dots between students, parents, and educators with legislators,” Morgan argues. What JerseyCAN brings to the table through Morgan’s leaders is that “we are solely focused on students and families.”
Over the past several weeks Morgan was appointed to both the New Jersey Senate’s Education Recovery Task Force and the Department of Education’s Steering Committee on Reopening Schools. Her focus will be to directly convey the needs of students as key decisions are made and to bring new ideas to the table on how to meet those urgent needs.
“Because we have this national connection through 50CAN, we are really a gateway for bringing a number of incredible national thought partners to the conversation in New Jersey,” Morgan shared. These student-centered policies are at the core of her newly revised campaign goals. “It’s really about connecting all the information to make sure you’re solving the problems as quickly as possible.”
- The task this week is to seek out opportunities to bring student needs directly to the rooms in which decisions are being made and bring fresh thinking on how to solve those problems.
Get creative now in order to be ready when students return in the fall
“This is something we’ve never experienced before,” Joris Ray, superintendent of Shelby County Schools told the Memphis Flyer. “The reality is we don’t know what hold this virus will have on the community, and we must be prepared for a variety of scenarios.” Memphis, like many other districts across the country, is exploring a hybrid model for the fall with students learning partially in-person and partially virtually.
In addition to hybrid models, there is a clear need to think creatively about how to catch students up. Arne Duncan, former secretary of education, recently suggested the need for new tutoring programs while Chiefs for Change advocates for a small group approach to instruction, more nimble staffing models and a more flexible school calendar in their new report “The Return.”
“If there was ever a time to go all-in on personalized learning this strikes me as the time,” GeorgiaCAN executive director Michael O’Sullivan shared in his reflections on these new proposals. “When kids return to school in the fall, there will be no child perfectly on grade level. We’re going to need to individualize to catch them up.”
Of course, making these changes will take time and money. That means making sure that the federal money that is flowing to states gets distributed to all schools. Victor Evans, executive director of TennesseeCAN, tells us, “This pandemic has laid bare the inequities that exist for students and in how schools are funded. We need to explore avenues to ensure there’s equitable funding for all schools–public, charter, private–so that they can meet the needs of their kids.”
The task this week is to ensure that the best ideas for adapting our education systems for these new student needs are customized for local communities and marshal the time and resources to ensure they are in place in time for the return in the fall.
While state legislatures across the country recessed early in response to the pandemic, the next few weeks will see a return to state legislative sessions. For example, the Tennessee House Education Committee will be resuming session on May 26th while the New Mexico legislature will begin a special session on June 18th. The need for new policy goals and strong advocacy during these summer months will be more important than ever.
Across our network, campaigns are working to elevate the voices of families and bring them to lawmakers. GeorgiaCAN held a townhall that connected parents with Representative Valencia Stovall, a leading elected official in the state, as well as a webinar for parents on college prep and ensuring students are not losing out on opportunities during the pandemic. TennesseeCAN held a townhall with multiple lawmakers regarding distance learning that attracted local news coverage, and executive director Victor Evan wrote an op-ed for The Commercial Appeal on how the state should be using CARES Act funding.
Last week, we covered HawaiiKidsCAN’s WiFi on Wheels proposal that captured the interest of the local press and public, as well as ConnCAN’s townhall with the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. These efforts have continued to garner attention, with HawaiiKidsCAN’s efforts seen as essential for ensuring quality summer programs in the state and ConnCAN being identified as bringing critical perspective from the Black and Latino communities to legislators.
- EdNavigator has created Camp Kinda, a free, virtual summer camp for students that was built with busy parents in mind. Included are weekly adventures and mysteries to solve.
- The National Summer Learning Initiative opened registration for a virtual press conference on Wednesday to explore how communities can make the most out of summer.
- The Cato Institute is tracking every private school in the country that has been forced to permanently close as a result of the pandemic.
- Robert Pondiscio, writing for City Journal, analyzes the reasons Success Academy has been able to transition so quickly to a distance learning model.
- Teach For America highlighted a number of educators who are engaging in innovative and creative practices to engage students and strengthen distance learning.
- The Bill and Crissy Haslam Foundation launched the Tennessee Tutoring Corps.
- The Center for Disease Control released “A Plan For Opening America Up Again,” with specific information on opening up school buildings.
- Dianne Tavenner and Michael Horn launched a new podcast at The 74 Million called “Class Disrupted” with a focus on innovation learning in the Covid-19 era.
In New Jersey, computer science and robotics teachers at Warren Hills and Mount Olive high schools helped their students utilize 3D printers to produce over 7,000 face shields for emergency responders. For the students it was a lesson not only in technology but also in civic leadership.